Roses are red, the age diff. be vast
But it’s Kevin Spacey
And he’s havin’ a blast.

Milo here, making a risk with an edgy limerick.

Sure, it might not be the most mainstream/advertiser-friendly way to open an article, but we don’t get ad money — so who gives a shit? In fact, I’m hoping we’ll be reaching a new audience with this article, as it’s the first I’m writing for a L.A.M.B. blogathon! If you’re not sure what I’m goin’ on about, check out my post about the wonderousness. This particular post is for this month’s Acting School 101, which is celebrating Annette Bening. Anywhom, here we go (btw I won’t be plugging this all the time just for the next few posts to get a bit o’ buzz).

Obviously, an important note to mention, specific to this film, is that Kevin Spacey is in it and, spoiler alert, he’s really good in it. Now, I’d love to start a discussion about how much we can detach the work and actions of an artist, but that’s something we can do in another article at another time. After a short deliberation, I will be commenting and, most likely, praising Spacey in his role here. However, it goes without saying that his actions over the years are detestable and shameful and, even though the whole upsurge in sexual harassment/assault in Hollywood accusations, particularly this one, isn’t on the centre of everyone’s attention, I still think it’s important to condemn him before we get started, just so I haven’t ignored it completely to remain objective.


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Making botany enthusiasts of 90s teenagers the world over.

Lester Burnham (Spacey) is in his early 40s — perfect time for a mid-life crisis, apparently — but holds the contempt for standard traditional suburban life of someone a quarter his age. His wife (Bening) and daughter (Thora Birch) consistently disrespect him, he hates his job and he pulls the padge in the shower — an image I did not need within the first three minutes of the film. However, this changes when he meets, and is smitten by, his daughter’s best friend, Angela (Mena Suravi). Of course, antics and hijinx ensue, good times had by all, except maybe not, I dunno. Plot summary — over.

Right, let’s get the Spacey praise out of the way. He is, as he always was, sublime, frustratingly flawless in the lead role. Sure, while recent events add a certain tone to his character here – a man infatuated with a younger person -, by the 20-minute mark, you forget all context and you are sucked into the character almost subconsciously. Watching a man who has been put down and ignored most of his adult life, driven to emotional subduction, finally get his own back is sure to put a smile on your face — and Spacey was just the man for the role. His deadpan delivery, which could, at moments, explode, was always engaging and one of the key traits that still makes me admire Spacey as a character actor.

However, it being Annette Bening month, my attention was also drawn to her. In the role of Spacey’s neurotic, career-driven wife, Bening played well, at least well-enough to make me never want to marry her. She managed to remain fully unlikeable in a role that was designed as a victim in another movie, which something I loved about Bening’s portrayal — she illustrated a sense of entitlement which was subconsciously vital to the role. Her emotional range, while somewhat limited to from “slightly pissed” to “screaming in an empty house/car”, was engaging and powerful to watch, especially as a polar opposite to her husband.

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Ayyy, the neighbours will be absolutely livid.

In supporting roles, we have Thora Birch, as Spacey’s “moody, typical teenager a-grumble-mumble-grumble grumble-grumble-grumble” daughter — kinda forgettable, I found, and a definite weakness in the main cast. Her best friend and romancer of the elderly, Angela, was comparatively quite good, played by Mena Suvari. I certainly bought her as this kind of nympho-narcissistic cheerleader-type deal (which is also the name of my third album), and she did well to make me very uncomfortable. Finally, we have Wes Bentley, playing neighbour boy and all-round weirdo Ricky, who portrayed a level of intrigue that wasn’t scene-stealing, but enough to remember him for sure.

However, the true star of the show really was Sam Mendes’ masterpiece direction, aided excellently by legendary cinematographer Conrad L. Hall (Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke). The surrealist imagery throughout was inspired, the rose petal sequences so accurately dream-like — it’s surely one of the most visually-striking dramas of the decade. The way Mendes managed to craft a shot, though, even one as simple as a dinner scene, is truly understated and underrated, as he captures the subtle atmosphere within the room with the camera.

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“Jesus, Carolyn, how did you season this salmon?? — Lemon??? Anything else?? — No?!?!?!?!”

Also impressive, was the original screenplay from Alan Ball. It’s a tricky film to bring to life, which is to Mendes credit, but it’s also a difficult story to craft without making it INCREDIBLY. PERVERSE. And, sure, I’d be lying if I said American Beauty is likely to come from the mind of a man without a worrying psychological complex, but it could’ve been a lot worse. As the film reaches its climax, the supple twists and turns the plot takes, which really do leave you on the edge of your seat, are, at the same time, very delicate. Moreover, Spacey’s monologues at the beginning and end, while a little pretentious and very 90s in that, are wonderfully crafted pieces of dialogue, particularly considering the context of the film.

Overall, Sam Mendes’ debut directorial effort American Beauty stands out as a unique take on suburban life and a highlight of 90s cinema. The “American beauty” of this film seems to lie in its representation of mundanity and the upheaval of it. Kevin Spacey is a wonder to watch here, as is his co-star Annette Bening, and the visuals are nothing less than artistic. While it’s not for everyone, as it’s undoubtedly one of the more challenging pieces of mainstream cinema I’ve seen in a while, it’s worth a watch, for sure.




Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations


11 thoughts on “American Beauty (1999) – Review

  1. Damn. That’s a solid bit of writing there Milo. Nice work and a good movie to boot. I’ve loved this film since I saw it in the theatre but I haven’t thought about it in a long time. Might be worth dusting off the DVD 📀

    Liked by 1 person

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